Playful solutions to tackle the global learning crisis

Both the World Economic Forum and the World Bank have warned us of a major ’learning crisis’. It effects a large number of children who are not in school, but also those who do attend it. The LEGO Idea Conference 2018 (10-11 April, Billund), held in the inspiring environment of LEGO House tried to offer solutions for it on several levels: the breadth of skills an individual child needs to develop, attitudes and behaviour of adults around them, the collective impact of their community and the social norms and requirements of society. Experts, researchers and practitioners discussed their ideas and practice, ones that all have a certain playful element.

The 2018 edition of the Davos World Economic Forum discussed the main issues around education and learning today. They highlighted the huge gap between skills developed by schools and those necessary for the labour market today and tomorrow. Education systems are not responsive to changes in society, and evaluation of the necessary breadth of skills is missing from most systems. As a result children lose the feeling of engagement with their schooling.

World Bank findings underline these statements also by highlighting that 44% of children do not even attain basic level in reading and 53% in maths globally. The head of education at the World Bank, former Minister of Education of Peru, Jaime Saavedra compared education to a car the 4 wheels of are 1. curriculum, instruction and assessment, 2. teachers’ careers, 3. management and 4. infrastructure. The 4 need to change together to move the vehicle forward. The necessary reform takes time.

Rebecca Winthrop of Brookings Institute introduced the notion of leapfrogging highlighting the fact that reforms that need a lot of time will not help today’s children who only have this one childhood. The goal of leapfrogging in education should be to use pedagogical innovation to harness a combination of basic skills and 21st century skills for all children, including those coming from low socio-economic status families. There is a need for action as 75% or countries are committed to developing the necessary breadth of skills while only 13% has plans in place to do so. The goal of leapfrogging would be to overcome skills inequalities and skills uncertainty together. She also emphasised that whole school development doesn’t necessarily mean a need for all children to be in school – and this increases the need for empowering parents and other members of local communities.

Later she also mentioned that it is the nonprofit sector that is leading pedagogical innovation, especially since formal education is resistant to change. The question is when the ‘Wikipedia moment’ of schools will happen (similarly to that of lexicon publishers).Currently 70% successful innovative initiatives have a playful learning methodology (eg. Duolingo, LIMA, BRAC) and only 20% of them are aiming at teacher training.

During the event there has been an opportunity to witness, try and evaluate several innovative education initiatives and think about ways of scaling them in different environments. An important issue mentioned in connection to this was the fact that ‘marketing’ is not the job of the practitioner, otherwise what happens in the classroom, stays there and others have no opportunity to learn about it.

The IDEA Prize 2018 was awarded to Sir Fazle Abed, founder of BRAC

In the concluding remarks John Goodwin, Director of LEGO Foundation reinforced their commitment to changing education and highlighted Playfutures as an important platform for policy, research and practice to meet. It should be a vehicle for integration, a place to share examples for shifting mindsets, facilitate leapfrogging by introducing innovations from approaches to scaling, an advocacy tool around the breadth of skills by promoting learning through play. Come and do join us there.


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